Comedy is one of the most essential kinds of media today. In a high stress and fast paced world, we all need a moment to ignore the problems of day to day life, relax, and laugh. Of course, what one person finds hilarious another person may find raunchy or offensive. That’s why being a comedian is extremely difficult. Some comedians try to pander to their audience, while others are unabashed and unafraid to show their wild side.
Of course, while some people may appreciate the raw honesty that comes with certain comedians, if enough people find a person’s content detestable, it can be hard for a comedian to actually make money. Good comedy has to strike a fine balance between being tasteful and being outrageous. Discomfort and tension is part of what makes comedy, well, comedic. But if you take things too far, you might be shunned by audiences for the rest of your career.
On the other hand, if a comedian’s routine is too tame, they’ll put audiences to sleep with their boring material. Comedy is all about being fresh, outrageous, and creative. Standup comedy has evolved so much over the decades, but at its heart, the values remain the same: subvert your audience’s wildest expectations, make their sides split from laughter, and leave them reeling at the end of your act.
The biggest part of what makes standup comedy such a difficult career choice is the amount of risk involved. If you don’t take risks as a comedian, you’ll never get a laugh. But at the same time, some risks ultimately lead to a fall. Even some of the greatest comedians ever took bold risks that had heavy consequences.
Richard Pryor, who is widely renowned as being one of the boldest and most influential comedians in history, had a turbulent career marked with both successes and failures. While he will largely be remembered for those successes, it’s always interesting to look back at the low points of a legend’s career.
In 1977, Richard Pryor was granted an amazing opportunity; his own primetime show on NBC. Unfortunately, like many great comedians, he was just too outrageous to last. In today’s video, we’re going to look at all of the crazy things that went on during The Richard Pryor Show. Make sure you stick around, because we’re going to reveal the exact reason why it was canceled after just four episodes!
A Difficult Childhood
Before the disastrous events of The Richard Pryor Show, Richard Pryor was no stranger to hardship. He was born in a brothel to a prostitute mother, and his father was a hustler. His mother, Gertrude, abandoned him when he was just 10 years old. Young Richard was left to live with a woman named Marie, who was violently abusive. When he was fourteen, Richard Pryor dropped out of school. He joined the U.S. Army in 1958, but he was incarcerated in army prison for beating a white soldier for making racist remarks.
Despite all the difficulties that he faced, Pryor never lost his sense of humor. He fell in love with comedy, and he began performing in the 60s. He became well known for writing television shows and acting in films during the 70s. He then became the first African American to host for Saturday Night Live in 1975. As a result of his success, he was granted the opportunity of a lifetime.
A Golden Opportunity
In May of 1977, Richard Pryor starred in a comedy special on NBC. It was a huge success, and he was soon given the amazing opportunity to host his very own variety show. The Richard Pryor Show was produced by Rocco Urbisci. Despite Richard Pryor’s excitement, many viewers were critical of NBCs decision. After all, it was to be aired during “family hour” on a weekday night, and it featured one of the most controversial comedians known at the time. NBC ignored these doubts, however, and Richard Pryor was grateful for the opportunity. After such a difficult childhood, he no doubt felt that his life was turning towards a very positive direction. The Richard Pryor Show premiered on Tuesday, September 13th, 1977 at 8 p.m.
The Rejected Opening
If NBC thought that Richard Pryor was going to tone down his content for the sake of “family hour,” they were gravely mistaken. After it was announced he would be getting to create his own television show, he had tons of ideas, each more outrageous than the last. Originally, Pryor planned the opening of the show to feature himself, entirely nude, but with his genitalia removed so that he resembled a Ken doll. NBC executives were stunned by the proposal, and they wasted no time in rejecting it. Thus began the short-lived battle between NBC’s desire for tasteful comedy, and Richard Pryor’s bold comedic genius.
A Legendary Cast
By this point in his career, Richard Pryor was already loved and revered within the comedic community. As a result, when it was announced that he would be hosting his own comedy show, many other talented comedians lined up for a chance to guest star on the show. Some of the legendary cast members that joined him on the show include Paul Mooney, Maya Angelou, Tim Reid, Sandra Bernhard, and Robin Williams. They were all ecstatic to be a part of this creation, but Marsha Warfield admitted that each cast member was also terrified at the same time.
When asked about working alongside Richard Pryor in an interview, Marsha Warfield admitted, “We were all just intimidated… He was already a superstar, but he had not yet, at that time, reached the heights that he was to reach. We were just little children sitting at the master’s feet.”
The Reason Why The Richard Pryor Show Was Cancelled
NBC had expected Richard Pryor to clean up his act while he appeared on primetime television. However, the comedic star had other plans. He continued to perform controversial material, which shocked many audiences. NBC tried to censor his material, and Pryor eventually cancelled the show, unwilling to change his style.
Furthermore, like many celebrities at the time, Richard Pryor became involved in substance abuse. His worsening drug problems made him difficult to work with. Between that and his already unruly nature, NBC decided it was high time to pull the plug, and thus the amazing ride of The Richard Pryor Show came to an unsatisfying end.
Of course, this was far from the end of Richard Pryor’s career, although his life wouldn’t end happily. Make sure you stick around until the very end, where we’ll reveal how his failing health ultimately ended his life. And if you’re enjoying this video so far, please take a moment to like this video and subscribe to our channel for more!
What He Did After the Show
After he left The Richard Pryor Show, his career was far from over. Pryor would go on to act in many more comedy films. He even started his own film company, called Indigo Productions. He was incredibly successful, although his abrasive personality frequently caused problems during his professional life. He was the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, granted by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. After his death, he was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006. Pryor isn’t just known for comedy, though; PETA has also recognized him for his work as an animal rights activist.
The Legacy He Created
While much of his material was controversial, Richard Pryor used his experiences as an African American man to force other Americans to come to grips with the racism present within the country. He was also an incredible influence on other comedians. Other famous comedians, such as Bob Newhart, Dave Chappelle, and Jerry Seinfeld, all regard him as a key inspiration for their own work. Even after his death, Richard Pryor continues to entertain and inspire millions.
Worsening Drug Abuse
Sadly, like many others involved in showbusiness, Richard Pryor fell victim to drug abuse. His marriage to actress Jennifer Lee ultimately ended due to his drug abuse, although they did remarry in 2001. In 1980, he poured rum all over his body and lit himself on fire while under the influence of psychoactive drugs. The incident landed him in the hospital for six weeks. Many speculate that the hardships he faced in his life drove him to self-medication with drugs, although they only caused him more pain.
Worsening Health and A Tragic Death
Alongside his use of drugs, Richard Pryor was also a heavy drinker and tobacco smoker. This alone was enough to cause his health to decline rapidly. Even worse, in 1986, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As a result, he was forced to use a mobility scooter. His unhealthy lifestyle, however, ended up being his downfall. He survived two heart attacks, one in 1977 and the other in 1990. He survived both, but on December 10th, 2005, he suffered his third and final heart attack. He was pronounced dead soon after. People all over the country were devastated by the news, and he remains a legend today.
Despite his controversial material, Richard Pryor was an incredibly influential comedian. Were you more surprised to learn about his rough childhood, or about his problems with drug abuse? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to Facts Verse for more!